2,3,5-Triiodobenzoic acid

Arthur W. Galston (April 21, 1920 – June 15, 2008) was an American botanist and bioethicist. As a graduate student, he identified the defoliant effects of a chemical the British military and the U.S. military later developed into Agent Orange which was employed extensively in Malaya and Vietnam. When chairman of Yale's botany department, his ethical objections led President Nixon to end its use.


Galston grew up in a Jewish family in Brooklyn, impoverished during the depression. He was the youngest child of Hyman and Freda Galston. He abandoned his ambition for medical school, and enrolled at Cornell's Agricultural College because it was free. He could play saxophone to earn living expenses. Under the influence of a botany professor, he came to love botany, turned down admission to Cornell Veterinary School, and earned a B.S. in botany in 1940. University of Illinois offered him a teaching assistant position, so he took the bus to Champaign-Urbana, to study botany and biochemistry.

Galston's research and 1943 Ph.D. dissertation focused on finding a chemical means to make soybeans flower and fruit earlier.[7] He discovered both that 2,3,5-triiodobenzoic acid (TIBA) would speed up the flowering of soybeans and that in higher concentrations it would defoliate the soybeans.[7]

The Imperial Japanese Army had captured most of the world's rubber plantations in British Malaya, and Caltech hired him for research on guayule, a plant whose sap can be used as a substitute for rubber. The U.S. achieved success in synthetic rubber instead, and the project ended.

He was drafted into the U.S. Navy as an enlisted man and ultimately served as Natural Resources officer in Naval Military Government on Okinawa until his discharge in 1946.[1]

In 1951, biological warfare scientists at Fort Detrick, Maryland began investigating defoliants based upon Galston's discoveries with TIBA, eventually producing the toxic defoliant Agent Orange used by the British Air Force during the Malayan Emergency and the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.[7] During this time, Galston taught as an associate professor at the California Institute of Technology before moving to Yale University where he taught from 1955 onwards.

Beginning in 1965, Galston lobbied both his scientific colleagues and the government to stop using Agent Orange.[8] Galston and U.S. geneticist Matthew S. Meselson appealed to the U. S. Department of Defense to investigate the human toxicology of Agent Orange.[9] The research conducted by the Department of Defense led to the discovery that Agent Orange caused birth defects in laboratory rats.[9] In 1971 this information led to U.S. President Richard M. Nixon banning the use of the substance.[9] Galston made numerous trips to Vietnam and China, including, with Ethan Signer of MIT, as the first American scientists invited to visit the People's Republic of China. In 1971, he met Chou En-lai, then Prime Minister, as well as King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, who then resided in Shanghai.[1]

After his retirement as a biologist in 1990, he became affiliated with Yale's Institution for Social & Policy Studies, where he helped to found the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. He also taught bioethics to Yale undergraduates. In 2003-2004 his introductory bioethics course attracted 460 students, making it one of the most popular courses in Yale College.[8]

Galston authored more than 300 papers on plant physiology[8] and co-edited two books on bioethics.

He also co-founded the Gray Is Green: The National Senior Conservation Corps, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping older Americans lead more sustainable lives.

Galston died on June 15, 2008, in Hamden, Connecticut.


  • (With J. Bonner) Principles of Plant Physiology, W. H. Freeman, 1952.
  • The Life of the Green Plant, Prentice-Hall, 1961, 3rd edition (with Peter J. Davies and R. L. Satter), 1980, reprinted as The Green Plant, 1968.
  • (With Davies) Control Mechanisms in Plant Development, Prentice-Hall, 1970.
  • (With Jean S. Savage) Daily Life in People's China, Crowell, 1973.

Green Wisdom, Basic Books, 1981.

  • (Editor, with Terence A. Smith) Polyamines in Plants, M. Nijhoff/W. Junk (Dordrecht, Netherlands), 1985.
  • (Editor, with Emily G. Shurr) New Dimensions In Bioethics: Science, Ethics, and the Formulation of Public Policy, Kluwer Academic (Boston, MA), 2001



  1. ^ a b c Galston, Arthur (March 2002). "An Accidental Plant Biologist". Plant Physiology. American Society of Plant Physiologists. 128 (3): 786–787. doi:10.1104/pp.900024. Retrieved 2009-02-10. 
  2. ^ "Arthur W. Galston". Contemporary Authors Online (fee, via Fairfax County Public Library). Biography in Context. Detroit: Gale. 2008. Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000035059. Retrieved 2014-02-10.  (subscription required)
  3. ^ "Arthur W. Galston". American Men & Women of Science: A Biographical Directory of Today's Leaders in Physical, Biological, and Related Sciences (fee, via Fairfax County Public Library). Biography in Context. Detroit: Gale. 2008. Gale Document Number: GALE|K3099038777. Retrieved 2014-02-10.  (subscription required)
  4. ^ Galston, Arthur W. (October 8, 2002). "Oral History Project" (PDF) (interview). Interview with Shirley K. Cohen. Pasadena, California: California Institute of Technology Archives. Retrieved 2014-02-10. 
  5. ^ Members of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences: 1780-2012 (PDF). Cambridge, MA: American Academy of Arts & Sciences. p. 184. Retrieved 2014-02-10. Galston, Arthur William (1920-2008)
    Election: 1979, Fellow
    Affiliation at Election: Yale University
    Residence at Election: New Haven, CT
    Career description: Plant physiologist; Educator
  6. ^ "Illinois Plant Biology: Scrapbook". 2008. Retrieved 2014-02-10. We mourn the passing of one of our Department’s MOST DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI, Arthur W. Galston, at the age of 88, following a long career of scientific achievement and profound humanitarian contributions. 
  7. ^ a b c Schneider, Brandon (Winter 2003). "Agent Orange: A deadly member of the rainbow". Yale Scientific. 77 (2). Retrieved 2008-07-12. 
  8. ^ a b c "Arthur Galston". The Economist. June 28, 2008. p. 94. Retrieved 2009-02-10. 
  9. ^ a b c Pearce, Jeremy (2008-06-23). "Arthur Galston, Agent Orange Researcher, Is Dead at 88". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-12. 

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